Building Mutual Aid among Young People with Emotional and Behavioral Problems: The Experiences of Hong Kong Social Workers

By Ngai, Steven Sek-yum; Cheung, Chau-kiu et al. | Adolescence, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview
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Building Mutual Aid among Young People with Emotional and Behavioral Problems: The Experiences of Hong Kong Social Workers

Ngai, Steven Sek-yum, Cheung, Chau-kiu, Ngai, Ngan-pun, Adolescence


Adolescence and the biological, intellectual, emotional, and social changes accompanying this developmental period can be difficult. Intertwined with these developmental changes is the expression of a range of emotional and behavioral problems (hereafter referred to as EBP; Dryfoos, 1990). Some of these problems are age-normative and involve experimentation (e.g, alcohol use, minor delinquency), whereas the more severe expressions of such problems exhibited by others (e.g., criminal behavior, depressive disorders) may impose constraints on both current functioning and future developmental trajectories (Harrington, Rutter, & Fombonne, 1996). Relative to their peers, young people with EBP experience elevated dropout rates, higher levels of unemployment and underemployment, lower rates of civic and community participation, and higher rates of incarceration (Lane, Carter, Pierson, & Glaeser, 2006).

Previous research indicates that young people who have EBP are amenable to social work support, notably through group work that promotes mutual aid (Heckman & Lochner, 2000; Yan, 2001). This kind of intervention has become increasingly crucial in both maximizing the Contribution of social work and minimizing its costs. As such, a key common factor in the success of social work input in promoting youth mutual aid is the promotion of sustainable social capital, which rests on altruism and social support in a socially desirable way (Jagendorf & Malekoff, 2000).The ultimate desirable outcome is rehabilitation from various problems, and sustaining mutual aid is a necessary step toward realizing its contribution to such rehabilitation. Hence, the major concern is not whether mutual aid is helpful, but how to make it helpful, including promoting the provision of mutual aid in a constructive way.

Given the potential benefits of mutual aid, it is imperative to clarify the ways in which social work service can be used to maximize these benefits. This study draws on data collected from three focus group interviews with social workers in Hong Kong to illuminate the key factors in group work practice that are conducive to the mutual aid and rehabilitation of EBP youth. By capitalizing on the experiences gained by social workers in interacting with this population, this study seeks to provide new ideas for further research on the provision of services to EBP youth and, consequently, lead to more efficient social work input that will enhance the positive development of these young people.


Conceptualizing the Mutual Aid Group

The idea of a group as a system for mutual aid is rooted in an ecological conception of the nature of the relationship between individuals and society wherein individuals have a natural impetus toward growth and belonging, and society has a similar impetus to integrate its parts into a productive and dynamic whole (Schwartz, 1977). In this view, the small group is a special case of the larger individual-social engagement, which resembles an enterprise in mutual aid or an alliance of individuals who need each other to work on certain common problems. Since group members share common experiences and concerns, they are olden receptive to one another's views, suggestions, and challenges. As members reach out to one another, they experience a variety of helping relationships and become increasingly participative in interpersonal processes. Mutual aid encourages members to struggle, to offer and receive help from one another, and thus to accomplish the purpose of the group (Gitterman & Shulman, 2005).

For members to experience mutual aid, they need to demonstrate to one another specific kinds of behavior in group processes (Gitterman, 2005). Among these are trust and acceptance, which require an ability to convey to others their worth, express care and interest, and offer helpful and empathic suggestions. Providing hope is another type of behavior that is essential to mutual aid.

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Building Mutual Aid among Young People with Emotional and Behavioral Problems: The Experiences of Hong Kong Social Workers


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